Noble Top Enforcer
The Noble Top Enforcer is an Anti-Villain Dragon who is considerably more virtuous than the Big Bad. Why they serve the villain can vary. They could be doing so out of loyalty to him, loyalty to their nation, or regarding them as the least bad alternative, or they could just be stuck in their situation through other circumstances. Expect this character to not do any of the real bad stuff his boss does or perform a Faustian Rebellion if ordered to do something unpleasant as a way to Take a Third Option. Generally one of the more dangerous types of The Dragon for two reasons:
- These dragons are often very skilled combatants and/or very intelligent, mitigating their low position on the Sliding Scale of Antagonist Vileness by being very competent, being at the very least "credible" on the Sliding Scale of Villain Effectiveness.
- Should the Big Bad do something so vile that it truly pisses them off, the Noble Top Enforcer will be the first one to turn on them, triggering either a Heel-Face Turn or an Enemy Mine scenario. Second most likely member of a Five-Bad Band (behind the Dark Chick) to turn on the Big Bad. This does not mean, however, that they will then join the side of the hero, as they can easily become a Knight Templar in the process, if they weren't one to begin with, or decide that they must become the new Evil Overlord to prevent chaos
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Anime and Manga
- While it's left unclear for a long time if Athena in Appleseed is an Anti-Hero or an Anti-Villain, she is clearly not above using every dirty trick at her disposal to maintain the stability of the city Olympus, even if it means intimidating the parliament to do things her way. Her right hand Nike is much more civil and reserved and deals with problems discreetly behind the scenes. To such a degree that she becomes even scarier than her boss.
- Haku, Zabuza's Dragon from Naruto.
- Fate Testarossa in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. She served as The Dragon to her Big Bad mother because she still loved her despite all the abuse she suffered and she hoped that collecting all the Jewel Seeds like her mother wanted would have her return to the kind person that she once was. Even before her Heel-Face Turn, she was shown to be a genuinely kind girl who just happened to be following the orders of an insane and abusive parent.
- Desert Punk's Striker
- Abelia in Now and Then, Here and There is SO MUCH of a better person than the outrageously, ridiculously Evil Big Bad Hamdo that eventually she just leaves him to die after she's had enough.
- Christopher Armalite in Scrapped Princess. Although his immediate superior is a virtuous Cool Old Lady, his orders ultimately come from the corrupt government.
- Freed Justine of Fairy Tail to Laxus Dreyar. Subverted in that Laxus isn't actually evil to begin with, just misguided and immature.
- Bismarck Waldstein is this to Emperor Charles Zi Britannia of Code Geass fame. Bismarck, being the Knight of One, answers directly to his Majesty and Britannia's foreign policy consists of discriminatory imperialism under his rule. Bismarck himself, though, is shown to be a virtuous and honorable soldier; advocating negotiation as being "more practical" before going to all out war and chastising Suzaku for abandoning his compassion in exchange for vengeance. Tellingly, he pilots a Knightmare Frame called the Galahad, named after the most noble of King Arthur's Round Table.
- Ashram in Record of Lodoss War. He is completely loyal to Emperor Beld and one of his most capable generals, but after Beld's death he firmly opposes the actions of the other Marmo leaders and works hard to help the people of his country, while still remaining an enemy of the heroes.
- Folken de Fanel to Emperor Dornkirk in The Vision of Escaflowne. He really did want to see less violence in the world, and eventually decided that the Emperor's Plan wasn't really working for him.
- The Captain in Hellsing is this to The Major. He does not kill Heinkel but rather puts her out of action and gives Seras a fair chance at killing him despite him being much more powerfull than her.
- Kill la Kill's Gamagoori Ira is head of Honnouji Academy's Disciplinary Committee, one of the most loyal members of the regime, and possibly the most ruthlessly brutal man his opponents have the misfortune to go against. When not on duty, he not only avoids fighting when possible, he also goes out of his way to help a student in need, for instance letting Ryuko and Mako hitch a ride.
- Gomez in pretty much every incarnation of Birdy the Mighty, as he works for the terrorist Christella Revi but also lends advice and help to Birdy on a number of occasions. In Decode this makes him an interesting foil to the first season's villain, Shyamalan, whom he attempts to dissuade from deploying a super weapon on Earth—despite the fact that Gomez is not human, while Shyamalan is.
Films — Animated
- Kronk from The Emperor's New Groove. Despite going along with everything Yzma orders him to do (until he doesn't), he never seems to take any pleasure or shows any sense of malice.
- Although he never objected to Captain Hook's actions, it's clear that Mr. Smee from Peter Pan is considerably less evil than his boss, being more of a Punch Clock Villain.
- Mirage to Syndrome in The Incredibles. She turned on him after he ordered a plane known to have children on board shot down. That, plus Syndrome showing absolutely no concern for her life when Mr. Incredible had her by the throat.
- Cutter to General Mandible in Antz. While the General is a power-hungry, megalomaniacal psychopath, Cutter is a Reasonable Authority Figure who only goes along with the General's plans to "build a stronger colony" until he realizes that the colony is already strong, and that Mandible's plan will only damage that. Of course, being an ant, the concept of thinking for himself and questioning orders never occurs to him until after Bala suggests it.
Films — Live-Action
- El Segundo from Valdez Is Coming lives and breathes this trope, and openly regards Valdez as a Worthy Opponent.
- Mad Dog from John Woo's Hard Boiled is clearly a much better man than his boss Johnny Wong; he will not tolerate the harming or killing of innocents, a sentiment not shared by Johnny when trying to shoot past them to hit the heroes.....
- Archy from RocknRolla. While not exactly the most noble of noble top enforcers, he is clearly shown to be more understanding and sympathetic than Big Bad Lenny Cole.
- Knauer from The Longest Yard, specifically the remake, captain of both the prison guards and the guards' football team. He obeys the warden's orders, but is uncomfortable with being Ordered to Cheat because he believes in fair play and in his team's ability to win legitimately. Later, the warden tries to hang a murder rap over inmate team captain Paul Crewe to get him to throw the game; after the inmates win, Knauer tells Crewe he's willing to testify on his behalf if the warden goes ahead with the charges.
- Invoked by Darth Vader at the beginning of Return of the Jedi, when explaining the significance of the The Emperor's arrival to his subordinate.
Darth Vader: "I hope so, Captain, for your sake. The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am"
- Damodara in Belisarius Series. Reconstructed by making the dynamic among the leaders of the Malwa Empire into a major and central plot point.
- A Song of Ice and Fire
- The cold and ruthless Tywin Lannister has his strongest supporter in his brother Kevan, a family man and generally decent guy who supports Tywin unconditionally because he feels that Tywin's harshness is necessary for the good of their family/the realm. He also saw early the long shadow his eldest brother would cast, and while their other brothers struggle to get out of it (and die doing so), he decides to make himself useful in it. In A Dance With Dragons, he's killed by Varys himself and his little birds, Varys fearing that he might undo the trainwreck his niece Cersei caused. Even Varys, typically a cold and calculating operator, seems to regret killing a man who isn't really a bad guy.
- Joffrey's most feared enforcer, the ruthless Sandor Clegane, is a surprisingly moral guy. He's the only one of Joffrey's Kingsguards to help Sansa in any way. It's noted that Joffrey never once selects Sandor to be the one to beat her, perhaps sensing that Sandor would resist.
- After a boatload of Character Development, Jaime Lannister becomes this to his sister, Cersei in A Feast for Crows, working to stabilize the Riverlands with as little bloodshed as possible.
- Trapped on Draconica: Taurok insists on fighting fair and hates getting civilians involved in his boss' pursuit of the heroes. Gothon, by contrast, will do anything to accomplish his Evil Plan. He would have turned on Gothon long ago if the guy didn't have his family hostage. Ultimately does so anyway.
- In the Doctor Who episode "Planet of the Ood", the baddie of the week's chief scientist was working to free the Ood the whole time.
- Villamax to Trakeena in Power Rangers Lost Galaxy, who becomes pissed when Trakeena goes too far. He dies for it though.
- Before the events of Stargate SG-1, Teal'c was this to Apophis. Apophis had crossed the Moral Event Horizon well before Teal'c's birth, so his reason for betraying him was more "at last I can".
- Star Trek: The Original Series: Evil Spock in "Mirror, Mirror". He may be evil, but he's still a Vulcan, and therefore bound to act "logically". This makes him somewhat more honourable than his human crewmates.
- Breaking Bad: Mike Ermantraut to Gus Fring. Where Gus is shown to be ruthless, cold-hearted and malicious with absolutely no qualms about killing kids or Walt's family, Mike's "half-measure" speech to Walt, his initial change of heart about leaving Lydia's daughter orphaned and his appalled reaction to Todd killing a kid show that he is at least a more noble person than his late boss.
- The Tudors: The Duke of Suffolk. The rest of the court is filled with fanatical churchmen, corrupt courtiers, and yes-men. He's the king's best friend and Lancer. In each season, he becomes a more benevolent character, and every time Henry decides to be a bastard in front of him, he looks dismayed.
- Tarin Faroush from 24 season 8 is dismayed at the increasingly brutal methods Pres. Hassan uses to put down dissidents at home after his brother Farhad is revealed to be working with terrorists. Tarin was also a terrorist but still saw himself as this.
- General Leo in Final Fantasy VI is probably the Trope Codifier in video games: He's a general in The Empire who aims to minimise casualties on both sides of a war, condemns Kefka's use of poison in the siege of Doma, conducts himself honourably in all encounters with the player's party, and negotiates a truce with the Espers before Kefka breaks it and turns them into Magicite, whereupon he turns on Kefka and gets killed for his principles.
- Beatrix in Final Fantasy IX is the toughest opponent in the first two discs. She sides with the heroes when she learns that Queen Brahne was plotting against her own daughter.
- Harpuia in Mega Man Zero compared to Copy X. Heavily implied that his reign in Neo Arcadia was considerably more fair than Copy X's.
- Craft to Dr. Weil as well.
- Garl Vinsland to Maiden Astraea in Demons Souls, though that's not to say that she's particularly vile either.
- Eltoshan and Ishtar in Fire Emblem Jugdral.
- Billy Kane, Geese Howard's right-hand man. He's not evil, and is more morally upright than his boss. It doesn't hurt that he has no dark ambition, and is simply acting as Geese's enforcer to ensure that his younger sister Lilly is accommodated for. In fact, he seems to harbor no ill-will towards his boss' nemesis Terry Bogard and is pretty civil towards Terry & co, unless Joe Higashi is hitting on his sister. (The only person he seems to be hostile towards is Iori Yagami, because Iori mercilessly attacked him and Eiji Kisaragi after the '95 tournament due to their loss.)
- Both Sanger Zonvolt and Elzam von Branstein start out this way in Super Robot Wars before their Heel-Face Turn.
- Note, this applies more to Sanger, seeing as his debut game has him serve a batshit insane version of a woman he deeply cared for, and in subsequent appearances in the Alpha canon, she's back to being a good guy. In the Original Generation games, he worked for Bian Zoldark, who was actually a good guy (using a Necessarily Evil plan ith his buddy Maier V. Branstein). Likewise, Elzam worked for both Bian and Maier (his father), and both guys turn out to be Good All Along once you get past the faux evil mask.
- Leon to Hugo in the Tales of Destiny remake (he wasn't quite so noble before). He's essentially being forced into dragondom with a hostage.
- Kratos to Mithos in Tales of Symphonia. The Dragon doesn't even agree much with his boss, but follows him for his own reasons. He eventually joins Lloyd after having his fatalism beaten out of him.
- Custom Robo Arena has Marcia's brother Sergei.
- Persephone, Elvis, and Fereydoon in Wild ARMs 5 all prove to be honorable people who are only interested in saving their race from being eradicated by Filgaia. All three of them end up working with the heroes to stop the Big Bad Volsung in the final battle.
- Harle from Chrono Cross. She even becomes a temporary party member when Serge's party members leave due to plot reasons.
- General Morgahn to Varesh Ossa in Guild Wars Nightfall. He stays with her out of blind loyalty, refusing to believe that she's as much of a monster as you claim � until she desecrates the Font of Lyss, at which point he joins your cause.
- In Mass Effect, Benezia joined Saren to be this, hoping to rein him in a bit. It backfired and she ended up indoctrinated by Sovereign, and the best she could manage in the end was to shrug off the indoctrination as she was dying and give Shepard coordinates of a crucial mass relay.
- Dragon Age II has Knight-Captain Cullen as The Dragon to Third Act Big Bad Knight-Commander Meredith. While initially her biggest cheerleader, Cullen slowly becomes more and more disillusioned with Meredith's growing paranoia, until he finally turns on her to protect Hawke, no matter what side s/he is on, just before the final battle.
- Milhaust Selkirk in Tales of Rebirth is one of the Big Bad's enforcers that will always need a good reason to attack Veigue or do harm to the people regardless of race. He also has a huge Bodyguard Crush.
- Solymr to his master King Magnus in Heroes of Might and Magic IV. Back when Magnus was still a good man, he freed Solymr from his prison. The grateful genie swore to serve Magnus for as long as he walked the world, not knowing that Magnus was immortal. Unfortunately, Magnus was unhinged by the destruction of their original world that forced the survivors to move to Axeoth. Blaming free will, Magnus devoted himself to perfecting Mind Control Magitek that would give him power over all of Axeoth to ensure that the tragedy that destroyed his previous kingdom and world would never happen again. Solymr disagreed with this course of action, but remained loyal to Magnus out of lingering gratitude, sympathy, and the fact that he was bound by his oath. In the "Price of Freedom" campaign, Solymr eventually realizes that Magnus needs to be stopped and uses the loophole that Magnus technically isn't walking on their original world but on a new one to break free of his servitude and join Emilia Nighthaven.
- Both Mr. Mach and Baryl are this in Mega Man Battle Network 6. Neither of them are evil, but they both owe a debt of loyalty to Dr. Wily; the former also serves out of loyalty to the latter.
- Yellow Thirteen in Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies.
- Fire Emblem Tellius: the Black Knight/General Zelgius thinks he's a Noble Top Enforcer, but despite his sympathetic motivations, he's still a crazed Blood Knight who cut down his teacher for no better reason than to see if he had surpassed him. His Co Dragon, General Bryce of Daien is a straight example, being an Antivillainous patriot who fights to the death to protect a monarchy that no longer represents his beliefs. Ike himself notes that Bryce, unlike every other Daien soldier he's faced, fought fairly and honourably. In the sequel, The Black Knight's own Dragon, Levail, is one of these, being a naive young man who suffers from Honor Before Reason and My Master, Right or Wrong, and honestly sees the Black Knight as a Knight In Shining Armour (something Levail himself is much closer to). Both of them are Optional Bosses and killing them is quite sad.
- The lightside Bounty Hunter in Star Wars: The Old Republic can come across as this, especially during the third chapter in which they serve as The Dragon for Darth Tormen.
- The other Imperial classes as well, again by playing lightside. At the end of their quests, the Sith Inquisitor and Sith Warrior are subordinate only to the Emperor himself, making them his Co-Dragons while also being Noble Demons. The Sith Warrior moreso as they spend most of their storyline as the subordinate of Darth Baras, a fairly vile individual who they can openly snark at as well as subverting his orders (which he generally doesn't raise a fuss about as long as you still end up neutralizing his enemies).
- Even possible on the Republic side, the "good guys." General Garza isn't evil, just pragmatic and pessimistic. Since they answer directly to her, light-sided Troopers qualify when subverting or outright refusing the more ruthless of her orders.
- Although he's hardly the 'Big Bad', Sengoku Basara has this sort of relationship between Otomo Sorin and Tachibana Muneshige. Sorin is a Jerkass Sissy Villain and the resident leader of a Path of Inspiration, while Muneshige is the ideal Samurai (and extremely mistreated).
- In Borderlands 2, The Sheriff of Lynchwood has Deputy Winger, who urges the citizens to not get on the Sheriff's bad side as she's simply looking for an excuse to hang people. While he fights the heroes alongside the Sheriff in her boss fight, a bonus objective is to not harm Winger (in other words, shoot the sheriff, but do not shoot the deputy).
- In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the Dragonborn if played heroically or as an Anti-Villain will have them fall into this category at the end of the Dragonborn DLC, after the Daedric Prince, Hermaeus Mora informs them that they've just inherited the role of his champion from Miraak.
- In World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria, General Nazgrim fills this role for his power-mad Warchief Garrosh Hellscream. A fan favorite for Horde players, who have worked with him for no less than three expansionsnote , he had no love for Garrosh, but, as Varok Saurfang says, he was "too loyal and too proud" to turn his back on his Warchief and his nation. One moment that stands out is him allowing erstwhile Warchief Thrall and Saurfang to pass through a Kor'kron checkpoint, telling the guards they were "needed in Orgrimmar."
Nazgrim: In the end, I stood by the Warchief because it was my duty, and I am glad it was you who struck me down. May your strength lead the Horde into a new era of prosperity.
- During his brief stint as Co-Dragons for Ozai, Zuko was a Noble Top Enforcer, complete with a defection as a result of Ozai going too far. During the rule of Azulon, Ozai and Iroh's father, Iroh functioned more or less as this, still his genial self but fully dedicated to prosecuting the Fire Nation's war. It took the death of his son in the siege of Ba Sing Se to fully turn him face.
- In The Legend of Korra:
- Bruton from Dinosaur.
- Paige from TRON: Uprising, who serves General Tessler out of gratitude for saving her life, but doesn't condone some of his more extreme actions.
- Starscream gets this type of Characterization in Transformers Armada. In contrast to past installments of the character this version of Starscream had a code of honor, which caused him to conflict with Megatron.
- In The Venture Bros., Henchman 21 becomes this for the Monarch in Season 4 after Taking A Level In Badass. He's Affably Evil at worst, and his extreme loyalty to the Monarch keeps him around. When finally pushed too far, he quits to join SPHINX at the end of the season. After SPHINX is destroyed and he's led to believe that he has been betrayed by Sgt. Hatred in Season 5, he rejoins the Monarch.